As people that work with numbers and spreadsheets, we can often miss the pains our clients are feeling. Knowing your customer’s pain point is how you know where you can add value. But other pains occur in the strangest of ways. A scared person calls at 5 AM about an IRS letter (common,) family-owned businesses where you become an arbitrator (occasional,) small business in need of assistance in dealing with lenders (common,) or elderly clients that may be in precarious situations (depends on your niche.) Some days you are not just a number cruncher you are a therapist, a mediator, a priest, a rabbi, or a shaman. This week two calls in one day took a lot of listening. One from overseas and one from down the street caused those hats to be donned. Numbers were the opening of the story for both.

Morning check-in of email had a message from a small individual customer that we provide monthly management of income and expenses of her trust accounts as she manages the bills for her remaining relatives. She has a CPA and an investment banker, but we deal with the day-to-day and see the minutiae of her transactions. She is on sabbatical in another country and one of my team handles her bookkeeping. She also had monthly check-ins with me as we navigated her through the movement from a paper life to one in the cloud so she could go overseas. There was little activity and each month it was the same. In over one year no variations.

Once she was overseas the meetings with me stopped but the bookkeeping continued. I got the occasional email noting she had provided us with the needed documents for our reconciliations. Then received her notice that she was going to be staying longer than expected but all was well. But this email was different. Her email had a desperate tone, so I logged into her cloud-based accounting program and saw the numbers. Those were startling. I checked her local time and called her on Whatsapp. After listening to what was going on I contacted her CPA. She too became worried, but it was the week before 04/15. With permission I contacted a lawyer that I knew was familiar with that country and she put me in touch with a local, in-country organization, that would help. Both the CPA and I thought she was being taken advantage of and once I spoke with the attorney her comment back was, ‘this is potential elder abuse.’

The customer is being taken care of and now it came down to, does she come back to the US or stay, but under new living arrangements? That took a village of people that I was grateful answered my calls immediately, to help, but the numbers started the story. That was many different hats.

Less than an hour after that it was, ‘hey got 10 seconds?’ That turned into 2 hours on the phone with me playing arbitrator. This is a two-year-old company that has lots of chiefs and few ‘braves.’ The numbers repeatedly proved that someone was not doing their job. This was a common theme of the CFO that called looking for backup on a decision that was going to be difficult, from the emotional side as well as the internal politics of the company. Someone high up the food chain was just going to have to go. I told the CFO; that you have called me with this every other week for the last 6 months. I am basically billing you additionally for all of this as it is out of scope. You know this and you pay the bill happily and always on time. I could keep this up but was tired after the earlier morning crazy. I told him; that the numbers are the numbers. Any way you look at them he is not doing his job. You must address this to the owners, but I am done discussing it. In this instance, I needed to stop my pain. LOL never fun to see or be part of but heads were going to roll, and I was tired of being the sounding board for something that should have been done long ago.

Listen, have empathy for your customers, and for yourself.

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